Stitt wins reelection; money can’t buy Hofmeister love

Law & Principles

Ray Carter | November 9, 2022

Stitt wins reelection; money can’t buy Hofmeister love

Ray Carter

According to some estimates, as much as $50 million may have been spent on ads attacking Gov. Kevin Stitt and propping up Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister this cycle.

While that record-setting spending spree might have flooded the airways and mailboxes with anti-Stitt messages, it didn’t make Hofmeister a more attractive candidate to Oklahomans than previous Democratic nominees.

In the Nov. 8 election, Hofmeister drew just under 42 percent of the vote, essentially the same vote share won by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson and only slightly higher than the share won by 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman.

In contrast, Stitt, the Republican incumbent, received over 55 percent of the vote. His 13-percentage-point margin of victory over Hofmeister was larger than the margin of his 2018 win.

“Tonight’s victory is a resounding rejection of the secret, dishonest tactics in Oklahoma politics, and a rejection of every one of them that deployed them,” Stitt told a cheering crowd of supporters. “In the end, truth won tonight, and we are going to continue to build Oklahoma with strength and vision for the next generation.”

Stitt prevailed in the race despite facing an unprecedented onslaught of attack ads and mailers from special-interest groups.

An ad by Oklahoma’s Children Our Future declared Stitt was “a danger to rural public schools.” An ad by The Oklahoma Project said Stitt “failed to stop foreigners from buying up our precious farmland.” A website touted in another Oklahoma Project ad claimed that under Stitt “corruption, cronyism, and misuse of government funds has become an epidemic—and it’s getting worse.” Another Oklahoma Project ad claimed that Oklahoma has “a higher rate of violent crime than New York and California” and blamed Stitt. An ad by Imagine This Oklahoma claimed Stitt had a “secret plan” to build a new governor’s mansion and that the “corruption never ends.”

One ad by The Oklahoma Project even claimed Stitt flew a helicopter to travel from the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City to his family residence in Edmond.

Many of the claims made in attack ads were strongly denied by Stitt. Officials with the governor’s campaign said the violent-crime statistic was inaccurate since it was based on self-reported data provided to federal officials by each state and far more police departments in Oklahoma reported data than did their counterparts in New York and California. Efforts to address issues with the governor’s mansion were done in compliance with longstanding practices employed by governors from both political parties. And the Stitt campaign flatly denied the helicopter story and public records quickly refuted it.

While polling suggested the attacks did impact Stitt’s favorability, and the Nov. 8 results showed he received less support than most statewide Republican candidates, the attacks did not translate into a groundswell of support for Hofmeister, a former Republican and current state superintendent of public instruction who switched parties to run for governor as Democrat.

Hofmeister’s own record and policy stances became a public focus during the final weeks of the campaign.

Video surfaced of Hofmeister saying she was in favor of “sanctuary cities,” a label for communities that refuse to enforce immigration law.

She also drew criticism for her efforts to keep Oklahoma schools closed to in-person learning for a potentially prolonged period of time due to COVID fears, and for the rapid decline in state academic outcomes that occurred on her watch.

In her concession speech, Hofmeister said her campaign was about “reclaiming our state for our children, for our families, and for our businesses.” Yet she spent much of her speech praising tribal officials who operate Oklahoma’s casinos. The leaders of five of Oklahoma’s largest tribes publicly backed Hofmeister over Stitt.

“I’ll also continue advocating for the 39 tribal nations who call our state home,” Hofmeister said. “As this political season fades, it is my hope that the division with tribal governments will fade away as well. I’m so grateful for the trust and friendships I’ve built with tribal members and citizens across our state, and I’m so sorry that this is not the outcome we wanted.”

Stitt has sparred with tribal officials throughout his term. Stitt, a Cherokee, argued that tribal casinos should pay a higher state fee for the monopoly rights they have on casino gambling in the state. Oklahoma’s fee on slot machines starts as low as 4 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

Stitt has also been a strong critic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which held that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation—an area that includes much of Tulsa—was never formally disestablished for purposes of the federal Major Crimes Act. That decision has since been expanded to include the reservations of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Quapaw, covering nearly half of Oklahoma, upending public safety throughout eastern Oklahoma and raising multiple questions regarding issues such as taxation.

Stitt has successfully fought in court to partially limit the McGirt ruling, much to the chagrin of some tribal leaders.

Despite Hofmeister receiving tribal leader endorsements, Stitt notably received strong support from voters in most counties that are now part of McGirt reservations.

In his victory speech, Stitt vowed to continue working to improve the state’s economy and education, indicating he will continue to fight to expand school-choice opportunities for families.

“We’re going to respect parents’ rights and protect their say in their children’s education,” Stitt said.

Stitt noted Oklahoma now has the third-largest savings account in the nation and vowed to continue reforming the budget process to increase public transparency.

“And with good government, we’re going to keep cutting taxes for you the people,” Stitt said.

He said cutting the grocery tax will be part of that process.

“I will always protect the taxpayer,” Stitt said. “I believe in smaller government, lower taxes.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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